Did you know?
Gigging musicians often exceed the safe levels of sound level. So much so that on stage during the first song the limits of sound exposure are exceeded before the lead guitar plays the first note of his solo!
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listen to my tinitus
A Personal Warning based on experience!
I have been a musician for over 40 years now. I've played a lot of notes! It's also a lot of noise. So much noise in fact that it has affected my hearing. To a musician this isn't funny as you can imagine. During my years as a gigging musician and also under the headphones (also at loud discos and concerts) my hearing has been impared. I suffer from something called TINNITUS. I don't profess to understand much about it and I am NOT a medical expert but sufferers may find a little comfort or understanding in my story if they read on.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus, to cut a long story short is unwanted sounds in the head. It is sometimes referred to 'ringing in the ears' - that never stops. It is a condition that exists deep within the minniscule parts of the inner ear near the brain.
If you have speakers connected to your PC then click the link on the left column to hear the sound I hear perpetually. It is most noticable when I lay down at night before I go to sleep.
What is tinnitus caused by?
Loud and sustained noise. It can also be caused by a blocked eustacion tube (the tubes each side of the head that connect the throat to the middle ear) or even a build up of ear wax.
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How is it caused.
In the case of loud noise, the sound waves cause the eardrum to over-vibrate. The vibration travels down to the hearing receptical in the inner ear called the cochlea, which turns vibrations into nerve impulses that are perceived by the brain as sound. If the sounds are loud then the microscopic hairs inside the cochlea are blasted flat instead of just moving to the vibrations which they do at normal sound levels.
The hairs then spring back upright when the noise has stopped, but due to their abuse, they constantly move. This causes the brain to perceive sounds that aren't really there.
In the case of a blocked eustacion tube, the ear mechanism is dysfunctional because air cannot freely move between the throat and the middle ear. Sound becomes muffled and distorted. Female voices take on an effect like two women talking at once, with one of the voices higher. Low frequencies especially are uncomfortable to listen to and cause the hairs in the cochlea to move unaturally at the slightest sound
With a build up of wax, the eardrum is compressed like when you press your fist onto a drum and hit it. A higher note is produced. When you take your fist off the drum skin then a normal sound is produced. Wax build ups can cause the ear to dysfunction in much the same way as the blocked eustacion tube above. Hence the tinnitus.
Is there a cure?
In most cases caused by damage to the cochlea hairs it is irriversable and there is no known 'cure'. There is not a lot that can be done. If the tinnitus is caused by a blocked eustacion tube then there is a chance that over a long period of time (2 years) that the build up of mucus will disperse. If it is just a wax build up, then eardrops can be used or you can have the wax purged by a medical procedure which squirts warm soapy water into them (Now THAT IS LOUD!)
For those with tinnitus caused by hearing damage, there are 'remedies'. One is acupuncture, another is homeopathic drops and another is 'ear-training'.
Acupuncture helped me and was backed up by homeopathic drops. I was very sceptical! The insertion of needles were quite painless, although pressing them further in was a little uncomforatble. NOT PAINFUL THOUGH! I had needles in my feet, in my ankles, hands between thumb and forefinger, wrists, neck and temples.
I found that my monthly sessions started to co-incide with periods of relief with the tinnitus resuming to usual levels just before the next treatment.
The drops I was taking were not unpleasant and were taken twice per day in water.
I never tried ear-training. This is where you constanly wear a unit generating the sound of white noise (hissing) tuned to the (primary) frequencies of the tinnitus.. The brain gets so used to the sound that it starts to ignore it and block out the sound. when it does this it also blocks out the tinnitus as well.
You will notice that constant background noises like a fan whirring will help you ignore tinnitus.
I am still not over tinnitus completely but it is a lot better. At the end of the day it was not only the treatment but also a positive attitude and acceptance of the damage. No longer do I wake up in the night scared and frightened. I have made friends with the noises that periodically return but are sometimes absent. I have learned to live with it. Will it ever go? Will it ever get worse? I don't know.
But I am more aware of protecting my hearing now. I no longer have my guitar amp at painful levels. I run a line thru' the PA and I let that get the sound out to the audience for me, with me standing behind it. I turn down the headphones and don't work under them for periods as long as I used to.
I want muso's to be aware of the dangers of loud noise so that they and their audience do not suffer the same fate as me. It doesn't mean you have to stop gigging - just be careful.
My story started one night on a gig right at the end of the evening when I turned my 2 x 165 watt guitar amp full blast for the very last finale note.
Problem was that the amp was at head level parely 3 feet from my left ear.
The next day I woke with a loud hum and when my siamese cat came in and yowled I had a nasty surprise because the yowl was all distorted. I also had a feeling of pressure similar to having my fingers in my ears. When listening to my wife talk her voice had split into two with an 'echo' pitch shifted by a semitone or two.
I used ear drops and eventually had my ears syringed but it did no good.
Three weeks later I went to the doctor who diagnosed a blocked eustacion tube and told me it would go in about six weeks.
Several trips to the doctor over the next six months saw me sitting in a specialists waiting room. I had special hearing tests (one found my left eardrum was unusually thin). But despite this physiological condition, the actual problem was more complicated than I thought.
I had indeed got a blocked eustacion tube AND I had damaged my hearing.
My hearing was down on some frequecies although not too bad for my age or the punishment I had given it. The specialist told me that he thought the tinitus would eventually reduce in intensity but there was no guarantee.
I started sessions with at the Lansdale Clinic in Reading for accupuncture. Chris Bordman (a muso himself) helped me get thru this stressful time of my life. He also treated me with a special biorhythm feedback device which he rested just inside my ear.
After this long period of time the distortion has gone, the low frequency hum has gone but some of the sine-wave type sounds remain. I think it's the best I can hope for, but it is much improved.
Occasionally the distortion returns for a spell as my eustacion tube clogs up with a cold or virus and this can last for a number of weeks.
If you are subjected to dangerously high levels of sound, then your audience will be as well! Keep the volume down on stage and you and the audience will enjoy the gig even more.
It's hard for a lead guitarist to accept this fact, but it IS possible to play more quietly and still get THAT sound! It might cost you a few more bucks, but that's better than losing something that you can't replace.